the numbers guy

Angus Reid have now released the results of their poll which looked at how some form of ‘Free Enterprise Coalition’, bringing together the BC Liberals and Conservatives, might fare against the BC NDP in next year’s election.

Angus Reid’s party-by-party results show the BC NDP well ahead on 50%, followed by the BC Liberals on 23%, the BC Conservatives on 19% and the Greens on 6% – figures very much in line with the 2 May poll from Forum Research.

If these numbers are reflected on election day, the NDP would clearly win a landslide majority. My seat projection last week, based on very similar numbers from Forum Research, had the NDP on 68 seats, the Liberals on 9, the Conservatives on 6 along with 2 independents.

Where the Angus Reid poll gets particularly interesting, however, is where voters are asked who they would support if the Liberals and Conservatives come together in a ‘Free Enterprise Coalition’. A coalition led by current premier Christy Clark would win support from 20% of British Columbians, to 33% for the NDP. (A coalition led by finance minister Kevin Falcon would have 21% support, and one led by Conservative leader John Cummins would have 17%).

Significantly, the number of undecideds leapt up from 16% on the traditional party support question, to 35% when asked to consider a coalition. With over 1 in 3 undecided, any projection has to come with a major health warning. The poll also has ‘Others/Independents’ on a relatively high total of 7% compared to 2% on the traditional question.

With both these major caveats duly noted, here goes. If you allocate the undecideds proportionately to the other parties (and assume that ‘Others’ do as well as they did in 2009), the FEC would be on 34%, the NDP on 57%, the Greens on 7% and Others on 2%. This would result in a sweeping victory for the NDP:

Perhaps a more realistic scenario may be to split the undecideds equally between the ‘Free Enterprise Coalition’ and the NDP (while giving a small portion to the Greens and again assuming that ‘Others’ only do as well as they did in 2009) – this would result in headline support figures of FEC 39%, NDP 53%, Greens 6% and Others 2%. This scenario would result in a closer but still solid NDP win:

Despite numbers like these, the NDP can’t afford to take anything for granted. The 35% undecideds are the crucial factor – if they were to swing decisively towards a coalition, the NDP’s hopes of a majority could be dashed. It’s also worth noting that NDP support among all voters (including undecideds) is about 42% when all parties are listed – but drops to 33% of all voters when the prospect of a coalition is put on the table.

That said, for advocates of a coalition, the Angus Reid findings don’t offer much more by way of encouragement. The poll puts the combined BC Liberal and Conservative support on 42% – but support for a coalition between the two parties falls well short of that figure.

It may be that should a coalition actually be formed, it could prove more attractive to voters than these numbers suggest. But there’s not much hard evidence in this poll to support that proposition – hard evidence which coalition advocates will surely need if their project is to gain momentum.

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BC’s next election is scheduled for just over a year from now on 14 May 2013 – and the province is already in something of a political ferment, with Premier Christy Clark’s governing BC Liberals having recently lost two of their electoral strongholds to the NDP in by-elections.

A big reason for these Liberal losses was the split in the centre-right vote due to the surge in support for the BC Conservatives, a party which won just 2.1% of the vote in the last election back in 2009.

Last time out the BC Liberals won 49 seats to the NDP‘s 35, with Independent Vicki Huntington picking up the remaining seat in the 85-seat legislature. The BC Liberals had a narrower win in terms of percentages in 2009, winning 45.8% to the NDP’s 42.1%.

The opinion polls reflect just how much things have changed in British Columbia politics since 2009. The most recent poll is from Forum Research who were last in the field on 2 May:

The headline figures of NDP 48%, LIB 23%, CON 19%, GRN 8% may seem eyebrow-raising – but are pretty much in line with those from other pollsters who have also shown the NDP with a hefty double-digit lead over a BC Liberal Party struggling to stave off the surge from the BC Conservatives.

When these poll results are broken down by region and fed into my BC seat projection model, the NDP would unsurprisingly win a sweeping majority:


The NDP would win 68 seats with the Liberals being reduced to a rump of just 9, the Conservatives winning 6, and independents 2.

(For ridings where the BC Conservatives did not stand a candidate in 2009, my seat projection model allocated them a notional support value somewhat lower than that of their weakest ridings in the region.)

With the NDP polling this well with barely over a year until the election, many on the right are urging the Liberals and Conservatives to bury the hatchet and form some kind of alliance, coalition or even a merger. What might happen if the BC Liberals and BC Conservatives did join forces in this way?

Well, with the NDP polling just a couple of points below the 50% mark, even a straightforward addition of the BC Liberal and BC Conservative support base would not be enough to prevent an NDP majority:

The NDP would still come out on top, winning 47 seats to a projected 36 seats for the Lib/Con pact. That said, it would be a close race in much of the province, and the NDP would have Vancouver Island to thank for their majority.

Of course, a straightforward addition of BC Liberal support to that of the BC Conservatives is very unlikely to be how things would actually pan out in the event of a merger. Some supporters of both parties would be alienated by the prospect of working with the other. For example, some moderate BC Liberal supporters may feel they have more in common with the Greens or with the NDP than with the Conservatives. A ‘free enterprise coalition’ could prove less popular than the sum of it’s parts.

Angus-Reid reportedly have a poll in the field looking at how attractive a ‘Free Enterprise Coalition’ would be under a range of different prospective leaders. When these figures are published we’ll start to get a better idea of what support for a centre-right merger or alliance would look like – I’ll run a new seat projection based on the results when they are released.

Well, that was unexpected! Nobody anticipated last night’s result. Even the most optimistic of PC supporters were hoping for, at the very best, a slim majority. Not a single pundit or political analyst predicted a PC landslide on the scale Alison Redford pulled off last night.

Every single pollster also got it wrong. Sunday’s final Forum Research poll did capture a last minute swing to the PCs – but still had the Wildrose ahead 38-36. On the night, the PCs won with nearly a 10 point lead over Wildrose.

With pollsters unanimous in predicting a Wildrose victory, it’s not surprising that the seat projection models were well off the mark too. The closest was ThreeHundredEight, not least because its final projection placed significant weight on Sunday’s Forum Research poll.

Still, even ThreeHundredEight projected a Wildrose victory – although you can almost sense the uncertainty in nearly every paragraph of 308 author Eric Grenier’s  Final Alberta Projection. Mr Grenier, more than anyone else I read in the hours before polls closed, seemed to sense that something was in the air and that a PC win might be on the cards.

My own seat projection model relied more heavily on Friday and Saturday’s polling figures which unanimously had Wildrose well ahead – my seat projection was therefore out by a country mile. I’ll get on to some of the reasons why – and the lessons learned – in a moment, but first here are some obligatory humble pie charts:

Political analysts will speculate for months about the reasons behind the last minute withering of the Wildrose surge – Josh Wingrove makes a start in this morning’s Globe and Mail.

From my perspective, I’m more interested in learning more about how the pollsters could have been so wrong. There was a 9.5% lead for the PCs on the night. The most favourable final opinion poll for the PCs had them 2 points behind. Such a huge differential in a heavily-polled major election contest is almost unprecedented in recent times.

The final numbers from most other pollsters had the PCs even further behind. A Wildrose majority seemed all-but-certain, a landslide highly possible. I can’t recall a provincial or federal election – in Canada or even in other Commonwealth countries – in which the pollsters were so far off the mark in terms of the final result. Even with last year’s federal election, while few predicted a Tory majority, some of the final polls did pick up the last minute Tory surge in Ontario’s 905 region.

My focus will also be on improving my seat projection model as we look ahead to the next provincial elections in British Columbia and Quebec. The model was basically designed to translate polling figures into seats. Polling figures that are way off the mark will inevitably translate into seat projection figures that are also way off the mark.

Nevertheless, next time I will pay much closer attention to the last minute final-day polls and will weight them accordingly. Among other initial ‘lessons learned’ are the need to incorporate an adjustment for strategic voting – where supporters of minor parties end up shifting their vote to a leading party in the final hours (or indeed on election day itself).

A further factor was how well incumbents performed last night – particularly cabinet ministers and also well-entrenched minor party incumbents such as the Liberals’ David Swann in Calgary-Mountain View and Laurie Blakeman in Edmonton Centre. Swann and Blakeman each bucked the province-wide trend for their party, winning their ridings comfortably despite predictions they were in danger of losing their seats. Adjustments will need to be made to future seat projection models to reflect this.

All in all, it was an absolutely fascinating election night – and analysts, pollsters, pundits and political junkies from coast to coast to coast will be poring over the evidence from Alberta 2012 for many months ahead.

Alberta’s hard-fought provincial election takes place tomorrow (Monday 23 April). It has shaped up as a head-to-head contest between the governing Progressive Conservatives (who have been in power for over 40 years) and the right wing conservative Wildrose Party. Wildrose surged into a strong early lead in the campaign, but some polls taken over recent days have hinted that the race may be tightening in the final stretch.

Alberta is the heartland of Canadian conservatism and, while the NDP and Liberals will be a factor in Edmonton and, to a lesser extent Calgary, neither is in the hunt for seats in rural Alberta. The small, centrist Alberta Party and the EverGreen Party are also contesting the election.

For last fall’s provincial elections in Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan, this blog confined itself to setting the scene – looking at where the close contests might be and so on. For the Alberta election, I’m going to go a step further, and attempt to project the results, riding by riding, based on the most recent polling evidence available.

Constructing a reasonably accurate seat projection model for Alberta 2012 presented a number of challenges. A recent boundary reviewincreased the number of seats in the legislature from 83 to 87. There was a great deal of shuffling around of electoral boundaries, particularly in urban areas, which made a straight projection of districts from the 2008 results difficult. Where boundary changes were significant, I made a best estimation based on previous poll-by-poll results, as to how the 2008 election would have gone if contested on the new 87-district boundaries.

I also made a few further tweaks, reflecting the likely impact of high profile defections, such as that of Guy Boutilier from PC to Wildrose in Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo. For seats where Wildrose didn’t stand a candidate in 2008, I assigned them a notional support value, reflecting that of their weakest 2008 electoral districts in that region. I didn’t assign an incumbency bonus for sitting MLAs – but I did give a bonus for the party leaders.

All this resulted in a set of baseline figures for each of the 87 electoral districts and, after some deliberation, I opted for a proportional swing model to project each result. I had some reluctance in doing so, as a weakness of this kind of model can be in an election which sees a party surge from almost nowhere at the previous election. This was the case with the NDP in Quebec in last year’s federal election, and it looks like being the case with Wildrose in this election – who are leading in the polls at around 40% despite polling just 6.8% at the previous election (and who didn’t even contest over a quarter of the seats in 2008).

Nevertheless, a proportional model is far superior to alternatives such as uniform swing – so we’ll see how it fares when the results are in. We’re likely to face a similar ‘surge from almost nowhere’ situation in British Columbia next year with the rise of the BC Conservatives and, if necessary, I’ll make adjustments to my BC model to reflect this.

The best seat prediction model in the world will fail if the input information (the polling evidence) is inaccurate. The numbers I fed into the model came from aggregating the results of the final surveys of pollsters who have been regularly polling the race. These numbers were broken down into three regions – Calgary, Edmonton and the Rest of Alberta – with a view to capturing localized trends, such as the apparent steep decline in Liberal support in the Calgary region.

The results are at the top of this thread – a solid majority for Wildrose who are projected to win 55 seats across the province. The Progressive Conservatives are projected to be reduced to just 27 seats – a huge drop from the 72 they won at the 2008 election. The Liberals are narrowly projected to pick up a single seat in a very tight four-way race in Edmonton Centre. The NDP are projected to win 4 seats – by picking up two extra seats in Edmonton.

  • Regionally the model projects Calgary to return 22 Wildrose and 5 PCs.
  • In Edmonton, it projects 13 PCs, 11 Wildrose, 4 NDP and 1 Liberal.
  • In the rest of Alberta, Wildrose is projected to win 22 seats, with the PCs winning 9.

I’m looking forward to seeing how these figures – and my headline total of Wildrose 55, PC 27, NDP 4, Lib 1 – compares with reality when the results come through on Monday night.

For months now, political junkies from coast to coast have followed every twist and turn in the race to decide the new opposition standard-bearer – who will be chosen to step forward and challenge the nation’s leader at the next election?

More recently, one candidate in particular has seemingly gained momentum – to the point where he’s now seen as having a substantial, though not insurmountable lead. That leading candidate has campaigned on a platform more in tune with centrist voters across the country as a whole – worrying more traditional supporters of his party.

Indeed, his main challenge comes from a trio of competing candidates, each jostling to present themselves to party supporters as the more effective guardian of the party’s traditional values. Should one of those competitors succeed in consolidating the more traditionalist vote, the race may not yet be done and dusted.

Readers outside of Canada may assume that this all refers to Mitt Romney and the GOP – but most eyes inside Canada will be glued not to the Louisiana primary this Saturday, but to the race to determine the new leader of the NDP – and Canada’s next official Leader of the Opposition.

New Democrats from every province and territory across Canada will gather in Toronto this weekend for their leadership convention – the culmination of many months of campaigning.

For political junkies of all stripes, a tightly contested Canadian party leadership convention is just about as exciting as politics can get. Many will have fond memories of the hard-fought 2006 Liberal Party convention in Montreal, which, after days of drama and intrigue, went right down to the wire before Stephane Dion was elected leader.

In fairness, this weekend’s NDP convention doesn’t have quite the same sense of everything being up in the air with just days to go. For one thing, there’s a clear favourite, in Outremont MP Thomas Mulcair. For another, the NDP rules, unlike the Liberals, encourage advance voting – with over 25000 NDP members having already cast their vote online or by post. By the time NDP members gather on Friday morning for the start of the convention, most of the votes will already have been cast.

Outremont MP Thomas Mulcair is widely seen as leading the race, with a second tier of candidates – Toronto MP Peggy Nash, Ottawa MP Paul Dewar, Montreal-born Brian Topp, and energetic British Columbia MP Nathan Cullen (a potential dark horse) – all competing to be the one to challenge Mr Mulcair on the final ballot.

Polling evidence on the race has been fairly sparse, though a couple of internal campaign polls were made public a few weeks ago, and pointed to a competitive race, albeit with Mr Mulcair in front.

Over at Three Hundred Eight, Éric Grenier (@308dotcom) has spent many months diligently updating his endorsements tracker, which allocates points to each candidate based on who has endorsed them (and on how weighty, within the NDP, that endorsement is). His most recent tracker, published today, shows Mr Mulcair with a modest lead in endorsements over Mr Topp and Ms Nash.

Perhaps the most interesting piece of polling evidence we’ve seen so far was not on the leadership race itself – but on the crucial question of which candidate is best placed to hold on to the NDP’s 59 seats in Quebec. Forum Research asked Quebec voters precisely this question a fortnight ago (2-3 March) – with impressive results for Mr Mulcair.

Here’s how, according to the Forum poll, the NDP would fare in Quebec under Mr Mulcair and under Mr Topp (the next most popular potential leader):

Mr Mulcair is, at present, clearly streets ahead in terms of potential appeal to Quebec voters. And this single fact alone is sure to weigh heavily on the minds of NDP members as they cast their votes. Nobody wants to lose those 59 seats. There will be those who may not be Mr Mulcair’s biggest fans, but will vote for him anyways, as the candidate with the best shot of consolidating the NDP’s position in Quebec.

And, as Chantal Hébert pointed out recently on CBC’s The National, it’s not like any of the other candidates have shown they are spectacularly ahead of Mr Mulcair in the rest of Canada. Here’s how that Forum poll suggested the NDP would fare under Mr Mulcair and Mr Topp across Canada as a whole:

That said, I’m not sure this contest is a done deal quite yet. Concerns about the direction Mr Mulcair might lead the party recently prompted a high-profile public warning from well-respected NDP elder statesman Ed Broadbent – and similar concerns may push quite a few NDP members to cast a vote calculated to keep their party true to its social democratic values, regardless of which candidate is best placed to consolidate Quebec.

Supporters of the more traditional candidates may also end up transferring largely to each other, denying Mr Mulcair the top job on the final ballot. Mr Mulcair’s supporters will be looking for a strong first preference vote to minimize the number of transfers they’ll need on subsequent rounds to get over the 50% mark.

Nor can you discount the atmosphere in the convention hall on the day itself. Although most of the votes will be cast in advance, a significant number of NDP members are expected to cast their vote in person on the convention floor – and, in a tight race, these votes could well make the crucial difference.

It should all make for exciting viewing on Saturday – and ThreeHundredEight will also be live blogging the convention, which should be well worth a read.

As for the bigger picture, the task facing the new leader is easy to state but, to put it mildly, very tough to accomplish – defend the NDP’s gains in Quebec, and win the ‘next 70’ seats needed from across the rest of Canada to form the country’s first ever federal NDP majority government.

Whoever prevails on Saturday will certainly need to unite the whole party behind their leadership to succeed on the challenging road ahead.

Today is Super Tuesday, and there are now just a couple of hours until the first polls close on the east coast.

This could well be the night in which the GOP nomination contest shifts decisively in Mitt Romney’s favour. A win in tightly-contested Ohio, a strong performance in challenging states such as Tennessee, plus solid wins in the more Romney-friendly states of Massachusetts, Idaho and Vermont, would probably be enough to make Mr Romney the presumptive GOP nominee.

The late polling evidence, which gives Mr Romney a modest edge in Ohio and has him competitive in Tennessee, points to just such a scenario. Indeed, it is now easier to see how tonight would pan out in a way which sees Mr Romney essentially wrap things up, than it is to imagine a scenario in which tonight sees Rick Santorum somehow manage to up-end the GOP race.

That is not to say Mr Santorum is not in with at least a chance. He’s clearly within touching distance in Ohio and, in terms of the media narrative coming out of tonight, so much will depend on the result in Ohio. The late polls may have given Mr Romney a slight lead – but they have also heightened expectations of a strong Romney performance.

If Mr Santorum pulls Ohio out of the bag, along with wins in Tennessee, Oklahoma and perhaps North Dakota, all bets would be off. The next states to vote after Super Tuesday are Kansas, Alabama and Mississippi – all of which hold momentum-building potential for Mr Santorum.

But, in my view, Mr Santorum needs to come out of tonight with at least a win in Ohio under his belt in order to keep his candidacy alive. That’s a big ask, but far from impossible. If Mr Santorum and Mr Romney are as close as the polls say, we’ll be in for a long, fascinating night.

With just hours until polls close, Michigan is down to the wire. Late-breaking polling evidence points to a last minute comeback by Rick Santorum, who now seems neck and neck with Mitt Romney.

The final polls by Mitchell/Rosetta, PPP and Rasmussen show a lead for Mr Romney of  +1, -1 and +2 respectively.

This is a much improved situation for Mr Santorum than was the case just a few days ago, where most polls had Mr Romney with a modest but clear single digit lead in the state.

I believe Michigan is just too close to call. I wouldn’t put money on it, but my gut says Mr Santorum – who has consistently over-performed the polls – will eke it out, although it may well be a long night.

2.30am update: Well, the race has just been called for Romney, so my gut was wrong about that one! Romney also won a blow-out victory in Arizona. He’s now positioned strongly with a week to go to Super Tuesday. But in a race that’s seen so many twists and turns, he’ll surely not be counting any chickens just yet. Read the rest of this entry »


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